PITTSBURGH -- The San Jose Sharks and Pittsburgh Penguins play Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).
Here are 5 keys for the Sharks in Game 1:
1. CONTROL THE PACE
On their way to winning the Western Conference, the Sharks had an advantage in team speed against all three of their opponents in the Stanley Cup Playoffs: the Los Angeles Kings, Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues. That won't be the case against the Penguins, who Sharks coach Peter DeBoer called "probably the fastest team in the League."
The New York Rangers, Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning each were burned by the Penguins' speed in the transition game in the first three rounds of the playoffs. Limiting turnovers through the neutral zone, getting the puck it in deep and controlling it are the best ways to slow them down.
"Obviously, this is going to be a different level [of speed] than we've seen, but we're not going to change the way we play based on that," DeBoer said. "If we control the puck, then it's hard to create speed."
2. MOVE THE PUCK QUICKLY
The Lightning spent most of the Eastern Conference Final in their end defending because they had trouble breaking out cleanly and quickly. The Penguins pressured them into repeated turnovers in their end and in the neutral zone, making it difficult for Tampa Bay to get into the Pittsburgh zone and generate any kind of sustained attack. As a result, the Penguins outshot the Lightning 269-178 in the series.
Having their defensemen move the puck up ice quickly will be essential for the Sharks, or they risk suffering a similar fate as the Lightning.
"For most of the playoffs, that's been one of our main objectives, and we use our forwards, too," San Jose defenseman Paul Martin said. "Coming back and recognizing situations and getting pucks out of the zone will be an important part of the game for us."
3. GO DEEP
The Penguins' offensive depth is one of the reasons they've made it this far. They eliminated the Washington Capitals in six games in the second round despite getting a combined four points from Sidney Crosby (two assists) and Evgeni Malkin (one goal, one assist) because they got 18 points from their third line of Carl Hagelin (three goals, four assists), Nick Bonino (two goals, three assists) and Phil Kessel (two goals, four assists).
The Sharks also have scoring depth. Like the Penguins, their top players (Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Brent Burns) get a lot of the attention, but they have eight players in double figures in points and seven with at least five goals in the playoffs. By comparison, the Penguins have eight players in double figures in points and five with at least five goals.
Players such as Joel Ward (six goals, five assists), Tomas Hertl (five goals, five assists), Joonas Donskoi (five goals, four assists) and Chris Tierney (five goals, two assists) will have to continue to be productive for the Sharks to win.
4. POWER UP
The Sharks power play has been lethal in the playoffs, clicking at 27.0 percent (17-for-63) and has been particularly influential when they win. They are 15-for-40 (37.5 percent) in their 12 postseason victories and 2-for-23 (8.7 percent) in their six losses.
They are 3-4 when not scoring a power-play goal, so they can win without converting on the man-advantage, but they know the importance of capitalizing on their opportunities. There might not be many of them in this series. The Penguins were shorthanded 13 times against the Lightning, including once in four of the seven games.
"Any time you get a disciplined team on the other side, you've got to be ready because you might only get one or two chances a night and you've got to create a little momentum off of them," Pavelski said.
5. PRESSURE LETANG
Like all teams, the Sharks will look to pressure and be physical with Penguins defenseman Kris Letang. A lot of Pittsburgh's success starts with him. Letang plays a lot of minutes, ranking first among players in the Final in averaging 28:46 per game, and in all situations. He can pass or skate the puck up ice efficiently and is a threat on the offensive end with two goals and eight assists in the playoffs.
"He's a very high-skilled guy," Ward said. "For us, it's important to get in on all of their D, get pucks in deep. Obviously, he's a guy that helps the team go quite a bit, so you definitely have to put pressure on him."
Letang's health is a question mark after he did not practice Sunday and skipped the optional morning skate Monday, but he said he will play in Game 1.
by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / NHL.com Staff Writer